Dad and MomI think most people have heard the Bible verse, John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” People may not realize that this is a Bible verse, but they know what they thought was an old saying. Either way, the verse was talking about Jesus dying on the cross to save the world from it’s sin, but I don’t think that was all it was about. It hadn’t really occurred to me before, but when my pastor was preaching a couple of weeks ago, this verse was part of his sermon. Of course, he talked about Jesus sacrifice, but suddenly something jumped out in my mind. This verse was about far more than Jesus sacrifice, or it wouldn’t have talked about the greater love a person can have if they choose to lay down their life for their friend. It was about how we are all supposed to be.

It was at that moment that a thought came to me. There is more than one way to “lay down your life.” Of Joann and Waltcourse, the verse meant to die for your friend, and many is the hero who has done that, but it occurred to me that dying is not the only way to lay down your life for someone. In fact, caregivers lay down their life all the time. They set aside their normal life activities, and take the time to take care of another person. I’m not trying to blow my own horn, but rather I want to talk about all of the many caregivers I know of and those I don’t, because their sacrifice is amazing. The patient they care for, would be in a nursing home, were it not for the loving kindness shown to them by a friend or family member who laid down their own life to give that time to another. It is one of the greatest showings of love there is, and it is also very rewarding for the caregiver, although sometimes it is sad too. For just a little bit of time, almost always a relatively short lived little bit of time, at least in the grand scheme of time, you have the chance to be the wind beneath their wings…the one who holds them up and cares for their needs…the one who had the privilege to lay down their own life to care for a loved one.
Yes, greater love hath no man, than that a man lay down his life for his friend…to actually die for his friend, but there is another way that is just as wonderful, and just as loving…to lay down your own needs, desires, activities, time…to care for another human being who desperately needs your help. So here’s to all the Caregivers I know, and to all those that I don’t know. You truly are among the greatest of people on Earth, because you have make a sacrifice that shows the ultimate amount of love you had for your loved one. It makes me proud to be a part of such an elite, amazing group of people. Today is National Family Caregiver Day, and I hope it is an amazing day for all of you.

Amy & Corrie with gifts they made for Jessica Lynn Christmas 1984With Christmas fast approaching, I am reminded of the Christmas of 1984. With their cousin Jessica Hadlock Sawdon, arriving shortly before Christmas, my girls, Corrie Petersen and Amy Royce wanted to do something special for her…even though they didn’t know then if the baby was a boy or a girl. We could have gone and purchased a blanket, an outfit, or a toy, but so could anyone else. The girls wanted their gift to be different from what everyone else was going to give. They were learning to crochet, and so it was decided that Corrie would make a blanket and Amy would make a bonnet. They worked very hard on their gifts, and on Christmas morning, they proved to be a stunning success. My girls beamed with pride at how their gifts were received.

Chris and Allyn Hadlock with blanket made for Jessica by CorrieSo often, these days, Christmas has become so commercialized that it often isn’t about the gift given, but rather about just how much was spent on it, that seems to matter. But, on that Christmas, for my girls, it was about their gift being made with love. Every stitch they put in the blanket and bonnet was a learning experience for them, and they couldn’t wait to see what their Aunt Allyn and Uncle Chris Hadlock thought of the gifts they had worked so hard on. Needless to say, the blanket and bonnet were very happily received. Their gift was a huge success, and no one gave a thought to how much money was or was not spent on it.

There were a lot of gifst given that day, and I’m sure that many were wonderful, and very much appreciated, but I also know that my sister, her husband, and now Jessi all remember the gifts that were made and given with love by two little girls who loved their new cousin very Allyn Hadlock with bonnet made for Jessica by Amymuch, even though they did not know her yet and in fact, didn’t know if she was a boy or a girl. The things we do for people out of love, while not necessarily expensive, are often the most treasured of the many things we receive over the years. They can’t be measured in a monitary way, because they are indeed priceless.

As Christmas approaches, of course, the most important thing to remember is the reason for the season…Jesus…the Saviour of the world. Jesus was the greatest gift, but in today’s world, I think it is always a good idea to remember more than just the gifts we received, but rather the spirit in which they were given. Whenever we act in love, we give the greatest gift we could have given…ourselves. And that is priceless for sure.

My parents on their wedding dayMom and DadIt was really hard for Mom, as a widow to stay in this place after the love of her life, my dad had moved to Heaven. Her heart was divided between her children and grandchildren, and her desire to go home. She spoke to us about it. It was a conversation similar to the thoughts the Apostle Paul laid out in Philippians 1:23-25, when he said, “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” This was exactly how Mom felt…a desire to go home and be with God and our dad, and yet she felt the need to step up into the position of spiritual head of our family. Mom spoke of the need to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour often. She wanted to make sure we were all ready to go to Heaven.

Nevertheless, the desire to stay and lead the family in the ways they should go is not an easy one when your heart is in Heaven. Mom and Dad rarely spent time apart in their latter years. I think that while it was needful for Dad, and later, Mom to work outside the home, those were the hardest years for them, because really, all they wanted was to be together. Not many couples can easily spend that much time together, but they could have spent their whole married life working and playing together, and the only thing that would have made that idea even better would have been if their children and grandchildren could have been right there with them too. That was just how much their love and their family meant to them.

While Mom’s desire to stay and be a leader and comfort to her children and grandchildren was a strong one, seven years can take it’s toll on a person who is waiting to go and join their other half in Heaven. Mom was simply not complete anymore. When the marriage vows declare that the two are become one, something changes. Each person in the marriage contract is now actually one half of the whole person. I don’t know how God does that, but He does, and Mom’s other half was in Heaven and she missed him very much. My sisters and I have been looking through pictures for Mom’s slide show, and it has been very hard to find really good ones, because we noticed something in those pictures that somehow we had missed when we looked at her. The sparkle in her eyes was gone. When did that happen? Why hadn’t we noticed it? Maybe because we were too busy dealing with our own grief over the loss of our dad.

This all seems so sad, and it is, but it is also a happy time. Our parents are together again. It is such a happy time for them. There is a party going on in Heaven, and they are singing happy songs. While our hearts are Dad and MomDad and Mombreaking, they will mend. It is only because we will miss her so much…we miss them so much. And yet, we could not be happier for them, because as it was in the beginning of their marriage, they have moved to their new home, and they are now awaiting the arrival of their children and their grandchildren. They are together again…praising the Lord…just as we all will be one day. We love you both Mom and Dad. We will step up now, and become the spiritual heads of our families…leading them in the way they should go. We will see you both when we can all be together again. We love you.

Young Carl SchumacherMany people, myself included, believe that our country was founded and populated in an effort to escape religious persecution. Looking back on several branches of my family tree, as well as that of my husband, I see the personal accounts of a number of people who dealt with persecution first hand. People such as my Aunt Bertha Schumacher Hallgren, who makes not of it in her journals when she speaks of her father, my great grandfather, Carl Schumacher’s return trip to Germany to visit family members who were still living there. During that time, the German government was doing it’s very best to force people to deny the very existence of God on any level, and their lack of any need for a god to lean and rely on. So often, I think of religious persecution, such as we have in the United States today, as being a problem of the current times. I suppose that is because it feel very personal to me at this time in history, but in reality, I suppose it is nothing new. In fact, the Bible says that there is no new thing under the sun.

When my great grandfather made the trip back to his homeland, he had plenty of time. His visit was extended for several months. It was most likely during that time that he became more and more convinced that his move to the United States was the right one for him. While he was free, or at least relatively so, to practice his faith imagein his own way, there was, nevertheless, a number of incidences whereby doing so could be frowned upon to say the very least. That fact would not be something that would deter my grandfather from standing on his faith, and it would renew his love for his new country, and his reasons for coming here to it.

I have run across many other ancestors, particularly on the Knox side of the family who suffered persecution from people in their homeland over their choice of religious beliefs. It’s strange to think that when someone receives a revelation concerning God’s word, that they are immediately looked upon as severely brain damaged. Why is it that people would assume that we humans, with our small minds would somehow have the capacity to know everything God intended for us to know…that there couldn’t possibly be anything else for us to learn from His word. And yet, that is exactly what we do. That is why our forefathers left the old world, and came to America in the first place. The churches they were forced to be a part of, or the removal of any kind of religion from their lives had left them with no choice but to leave the country they have called home all their lives, and move to an unknown world.image

I don’t know how many immigrants arrived here as a result of religious persecution, but I do know that our nation has somehow lost sight of why we first began to exist. There are so many religions in the world today…especially Christians and Jews who are bring brutally persecuted right now.  I still believe in freedom of religion. I may not agree with some of the religions in the world, but each person should have the right to believe as they choose. And no one should ever have to pay for their beliefs with their lives. I know that this world will probably not change that until Jesus returns, and I think that is very sad.

Michelle & AlenaMy niece, Michelle Stevens has, in her mother’s words, always been a character. If she wasn’t up to one thing, she was up to another. Michelle is in college working toward a teaching degree. She plans to be an art teacher. I think that might have been why she dreamed so many things up in her lifetime…even as a small child, she imagined things quite different than a non-artist might.

When Michelle was about 2 1/2, my sister, Alena Stevens, who is Michelle’s mom, put her down for a rare nap. Michelle was one of those kids who didn’t like to sleep at night, if she had a nap during the day. Nevertheless, since Alena was pregnant with Michelle’s brother, Garrett, and pretty close to full term, with an very active 2 1/2 year daughter, she was exhausted and in need of a nap. The plan was to put Michelle down for a nap, and take one herself, and it was working out quite well too. Then, Michelle woke up and came out of her room. As usual, she yelled out, “Mom!” Alena didn’t answer right away, because she just assumed that Michelle would come into Little Michellethe bedroom. But, Michelle didn’t come into the bedroom, and then Alena heard her trying to comfort herself by saying, “She be right back” in a pretty shaky, almost crying voice…”She be right back.” Alena immediately called out, “Michelle, I’m in the bedroom.” Michelle ran into the bedroom and jumped up on the bed. Alena cuddled with her and told her that I would never leave her alone…thinking sadly to herself that this must be how abandoned children feel.

Of course, most Michelle stories aren’t a mix of sad and funny. There was a funny incident in Sunday School, when they made a clock as a project. The clock face said “Jesus has time for…” The child was supposed to write their name in the space. For some strange reason, Michelle wrote her name as EMOP. Alena and her husband, Mike Stevens thought it was so funny that the clock hung on their refrigerator for a year. That name stuck, and they still call her EMOP sometimes, even though she is 27 years old. I have to wonder what she was thinking when she wrote EMOP, because she knew how to write her name by then.

Kids say the funniest things, and they don’t think about what they are saying, they just scan0046_editedsay what’s on their mind. Alena was video taping Michelle one time as she was singing the alphabet. Michelle was only about 2, and like all little ones, she got stuck on one of the letters. Since she was taping this and she wanted it to be perfect, Alena whispered the letter to Michelle, so as not to ruin the video. Well, Michelle understood about whispering, but not necessarily the whispering was supposed to be speaking really quietly. So she whispered back really loudly, “What Mom? What’d ya say?” Of course, all this was being recorded, and it looked so funny on the video. Needless to say, this…like the other stories here are all time favorites of Alena’s. They are the treasures of a child’s life. Today is Michelle’s birthday. Thanks, Michelle, for giving us something to smile about today. Happy birthday Michelle!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

JesusEvery Easter families gather together to eat a big meal and enjoy each other’s company. Most of us use just about any excuse to have a huge meal filled with all the best dishes we can think of. The meal often consists of ham and brisket at our house. And of course, what Easter dinner would be complete without eggs in some form…usually for breakfast and dinner. All those eggs the kids colored had to be used in some way, after all. In our family, the eggs are called angel eggs, because for obvious reasons, we don’t like the term deviled eggs. I really don’t want the devil involved in anything in my family…even the eggs.

But, more importantly, as Christians, we come together to remember the sacrifice our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ made to save us from our sins. We were in a horrible mess. We had all sinned, and there was no way out of going to Hell…not that we could manage anyway. Nevertheless, God is a loving God, and His children really are His life. He devised a plan to save us from the mess we were in. He sent his son, Jesus, who left His home in Heaven to come to earth, as a man, to live a sinless life, and then to die on the cross anyway, because it was the only way out for us. A sinless man had to die to pay the price for a world of sinners.

I saw a post yesterday on Facebook with the message, “Friday happened, but Sunday is coming.” That is so true. There is nothing we can do about the fact that our sins caused the Crossneed for a Saviour, Jesus to come and die to save us. That is in the past, but our future is eternal in Heaven, because of the selfless act of our Saviour. It is God’s love, grace and mercy toward his children that allows us to walk away from the punishment we all deserved, and live forever with Him. We can never thank Him enough for sending His Son. We can never thank Jesus enough for choosing to come and die in our place. All we can do now is rejoice!! Friday happened, but Sunday came three days later, because God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son!! Jesus willingly paid the price, defeated the devil, and the rose again to proclaim that victory!! Sunday is here!! He is risen!!! Jesus is alive!! Rejoice!!

Homemade GiftsChristmas has become so commercialized that we stress for weeks and even months over what gift to buy this one or that one, not to mention all the planning for dinner and places we need to go. Christmas wasn’t always this commercialized, but it still could have been pretty stressful in days gone by. People didn’t necessarily run out and crazily shop all over town, but if money was tight, they tried their best to figure out a way to give a gift of some kind. Even if money was not tight, some people came up with ideas all year long…because some gifts take a little bit of time. Those are the homemade gifts, and usually some of the most awesome gifts a person will ever get. Some people think that a gift that is homemade isn’t as good as a gift that is store bought, but I say they are very wrong.

When my Great Uncle Dennis Dunahee, who always went by Burt, and his son, my cousin Old Fashioned ChristmasRaymon, decided to make Christmas gifts, they did it in grand style. The gifts they made reminded me of the kind of gifts you might see the people on “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons” make. Were the Dunahee gifts homemade with love…absolutely!! Were they stunning…absolutely!! It occurs to me that there are a number of carpenters in the Spencer family who are capable of making beautiful furniture. It’s strange the things you never knew about your family. It turns out that one of this family’s best kept secrets is something quite beautiful indeed.

Christmas in times past was not only less focused on time spent in the mall, it was more focused on the true meaning Jesusof Christmas. It’s not that we don’t think about the real meaning of Christmas in today’s world, because we do, but sometimes it is easier to get distracted, by the rush to get our shopping done, gifts wrapped, and dinner planned. By the time the day arrives, we can easily be too exhausted to give thought to what this day is all about…the birth of our Saviour!! The reason we give gifts is to remind us of the greatest gift ever given, but in all our giving, we need to remember that the greatest gift ever given…Jesus, is far more important on this day that the gifts we give and receive. Today, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and I pray that you take time to be thankful to God for the gift of His precious Son…Jesus!!

JesusGod saw that this world was doomed, because the wages of sin is eternal death and separation from Him. Still, because God is love, he made a way in which all those who would follow his plan could live even after they had sinned. The price had to be paid. There simply was no other way. Sin had gotten us into this mess, and a sinless man was the only one who could pay the price to redeem a lost world. But where would this sinless man come from?

God saw a problem, and then He devised a solution. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. The very Son of God had agreed to leave all the glory of Heaven, be born to a human woman, live a sinless life, and then pay for our sins as an innocent sacrifice. He hung on that cross to pay the price we could not pay. Had the devil only known what he was doing, he would not have crucified the Son of God. By the time the devil figured out what he had done, it was too late.

Jesus marched into Hell…victorious and took back the keys to death and Hell, which the devil had been given through Adam’s treasonous act. Jesus paid it all and through His sacrifice, we have been put back in right standing with God again. There is nothing we can’t ask of God now. The curtains have been ripped in two, and we have been given access to the Holy of Holies. We can come boldly before the Throne of God and ask what we will, with the name of Jesus, and he will give it to us. We are his children now.We have been adopted into his family. Our debt has been paid.

On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead to show the world that He was victorious…even over death. There is nothing that we need to fear. Death has been defeated. The devil has been defeated. Sin has been defeated. By the grace of God, our lives have been spared. We cannot earn it. We didn’t deserve it. Love gave it to us. God is Love. Jesus is our Savior, and He is risen. Jesus is alive and sitting on the right hand of God! Believe on Him and you will be saved.

For most people, Christmas is a time of family, friends, and gifts. It’s about showing our loved ones how we feel about them. We gather together and make a big meal, open our gifts, laugh and talk, and in general, enjoy a day off, and all that is great, but sometimes we let ourselves get too caught up in all that, and we forget what Christmas really is about. This day is the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. So many people have politicized this. You aren’t supposed to say Merry Christmas even, because someone might be upset…it might offend them and their religion. But, the reality is that my faith has nothing to do with their religion. I believe in the God of Israel, Jehovah God, because I have seen His grace, mercy, and power at work in my life. It isn’t about my God is bigger than yours, it is about me and my family, and what He has done for us.

As a kid, growing up, I had heard of Christians being persecuted. I thought that must have been something that happened many years ago, because I never experienced anything like that…until the past few years. Suddenly, almost as if I just woke up one day, and found out that Christians and Jews are public enemy number 1. I didn’t change anything. I didn’t throw my faith in anyone’s face, but suddenly they are trying their best to force me out. That is something I just don’t understand. The Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and even the Atheists are allowed to display their symbols, just not people of Christian or Jewish faiths. I don’t understand that. Don’t we have freedom of religion here? Don’t we have the right to practice our faith as we see fit? It is still our Constitutional right…like it or not.

So, today, Christmas Day, I will not give in to political correctness, but I will use my Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion to practice my faith and celebrate Christmas both with my family and the giving and receiving of gifts, but more importantly with a grateful heart. Grateful to my wonderful God, who saw that I would need a Savior, Jesus, because the wages of sin is death and a price had to be paid. Jesus came to Earth, lived a sinless life, and paid that price on the cross, so that I could be saved and have eternal life. There was nothing I had to do but believe in Jesus as my Savior, and there was nothing I could do to get to Heaven on my own. The cross was enough. The debt was paid. How can I not celebrate Christmas, and how can I call it anything but Christmas? I simply can’t. It is not about politics, or whether or not others believe as I do. It is what I believe. Merry Christmas to All, and thank you Jesus, for coming to Earth to save us.

Every year for as long as I can remember, my mom’s family has held a Christmas party for the entire family. There is no way all of us could even consider getting together on the holiday itself, because there are around 300 of us now. Of course, we don’t usually have that many who are able to make it to the party, but we always have a great turnout. One of the things my grandparents asked was that we not stop the tradition after they were gone, because they wanted their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren to know each other. In their honor, the Christmas party continues.

Yesterday was the party for 2012. We had a good turnout, and as always the food was amazing. On thing I can say for our family…we are good cooks!! Many of the traditional dishes were there, but some had a new and modern twist. Family traditional dishes for many families, blended together to form a different type of tradition…but then, that is how traditions get started. Someone brings in a wonderful dish, and someone else gets the recipe, and uses it at their next gathering, and a new tradition begins. The family Christmas party has seen its share of recipes exchanged and passed along.

Every family or group of families who put on the Christmas party every year, always add their own touches. Centerpieces are one of the big attractions, and are often given out to those who attend. This year the centerpieces were made form candy canes and peppermint stars. They were very cleverly designed, and caught everyone’s eye. They were beautiful, as I’m sure you will agree.

For me and many others in our family, it just isn’t truly Christmas until we all gather together and celebrate together. Our thought drifting back to the ones who started it all, and hoped we would continue it through the years, both during and after their lifetimes. Merry Christmas to all my family, and to those in Heaven who are celebrating with Jesus this year. I love you all!!